Monday, June 28, 2010

Extraordinary Desserts

This place has the stuff that dreams are made of.

And I don't just mean foodie dreams, although those are definitely manifested here as well.  For the everyday man, woman, or child, Extraordinary Desserts is a magical place with rainbow-colored sauces, cloud puffs of meringue, chocolate medallions, and pillows of whipped cream to lull patrons into sugar-induced bliss. 

love love love this place.

Extraordinary Desserts has two locations in San Diego, and they are the brainchild of pastry chef Karen Krasne.  She is a native San Diegian who lived in Hawaii for a time (probably where she gets inspiration for more tropical desserts), worked in several other countries, and has formal training from Le Cordon Bleu cooking school in Paris.  She opened the first ED in the Hillcrest neighborhood in 1988 and later expanded to the downtown location in Little Italy on Union Street.  I always frequent the latter, partially because it is a central meeting place for me and my girlfriends (ever practical), but also because the draw is not just desserts; the downtown ED is architecturally interesting.

The restaurant layout and facade were the work of architect Jennifer Luce, and I think most patrons would agree that her team did an excellent job.  Both the exterior and interior make use of several raw materials such as steel and wood, and they are crafted in a way that seems organic and simple, showcasing all the offerings of ED perfectly.  The interior also has a lovely open floor plan, clean lines, and high ceilings, which enhance an overall modern vibe and make the eating experience feel communal, yet decidedly not stuffy.  And of course, the masterpiece of the entire restaurant is the show-stopping glass case that runs the entire width of the entrance and houses those outstanding desserts that make this place famous.  

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Shredded Red Cabbage Salad with Pistachios

So.  After my less-than-appetizing, injury-inducing attempt at kicking off So Cal Summer Salads, I am here to present you with a true winner.  Oh yes, this salad is Delicious (and I meant to use that capital D). 

In fact, this salad is so delicious, that I am eating it right now as I am writing this.  And I am not eating it for the first time, or the second time; but rather, I am eating this salad for the third time in as many weeks because it is so simple to prepare, and is such a welcome departure from the norm of lettuce-based salads.  And did I mention yet that it is delicious? 

I found this recipe while paging through James Peterson's Cooking.  The recipe seemed to jump off the page at me, because I was just so shocked at seeing the bright purple cabbage combined with beautiful green pistachios.  They seemed like unlikely bedfellows there on the page (in full color photograph of course), and I was intrigued enough to try out the recipe.  It also helped that I only needed to purchase two ingredients, the cabbage and the pistachios, and I happen to adore both of them already.  Separately, of course.  I mean really, cabbage and pistachios together?  

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Cilantropist GROWS: Sprouting a Tomato

So I sprouted a tomato.  From another tomato.  Has anyone else had this happen or tried this?  Because I didn't try to do this, it was really an accident.  (Albeit, a serendipitous and biologically interesting one.)  Let me explain. 

Often when I buy tomatoes on the vine, either from the local farmers market or the grocery store, I keep them on the windowsill in my kitchen until I am ready to use them for a salad or otherwise.  I generally eat them pretty quickly, because I love tomatoes; however, occasionally they will bask in the sun for longer periods of time, which either makes them more ripe, or makes them start to get rotten.  Boo.  The latter has only happened a handful of times, and always seems to be when I am super busy and forget my little friends there on the sill.  I feel really sad and ashamed to know I have wasted produce and missed out a sweet tomato warm from the sun.   

Well one of these busy times, I was getting ready for work in the morning and a lone forgotten tomato seemed to wave at me and say, "Hello!  I hope you haven't forgotten about me over here!"  At first when I looked at it, I was worried it might be past its peak and destined for the garbage.  But then I was both worried and intrigued by something different: there was clearly a thing underneath the waxy skin.  Was it an insect?  An alien growth?  Whereas someone else might have thrown the whole thing away, the scientist in me could not let this go without further investigation. 

I took a small paring knife and made little incision in the skin where I could see something underneath.  It was green.  It was smooth.  It was not moving.  Much to my surprise, the alien growth looked suspiciously like the stem of a plant!  I wasn't too sure if that is what I was really seeing, so I put it back on the sill and went to work; by the time I got home, the stem had straightened up, and a little plant with two dark green leaves was sticking out of the top of the tomato!  From a biological standpoint, I suppose the seeds inside must have germinated with the warmth from the sun, and water and "food" from the tomato flesh.  I thought this was incredibly cool.  Over the next week or so, more little plants started poking through the top of the skin (with aid from one kitchen scientist and her knife).  I eventually cut the whole thing open so I could try to transplant them into soil, and the whole tomato was filled with sprouted seeds.     

I was thrilled that they took so well to the transplantation, and I eventually had to thin out the plants because they were growing too well.  I ended up leaving five plants in the pot, with the thought that a few would outgrow the others and I would keep just those; but, ALL of them started growing like crazy, sometimes an half an inch a day!  The biggest plants are almost five feet tall now, and still growing.  Now I am no gardening expert, but I am 100% positive that this is too many plants to keep in one pot... By some gardening magic they just keep growing despite these crowded conditions. 

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Arugula, Fennel and Apricot Salad: Not Worth the Pain

I can't understand how it is the middle of June!  It seems like March and April were here just yesterday, and now June has snuck up on me with July in tow.  With warmer weather on its way, clothing becomes smaller and bikini season officially starts.  This means that I put on a bathing suit and instantly feel the urge to cut back on calories and desserts.  (Notice I said 'cut back' not 'cut out.'  Please, lets be real here.  No one should ever cut desserts out of their diet.)  Plus, healthy eating is always a good thing in my book, bikini season or not. 

So it was in this mindset, that I decided I would post a set of So Cal Summer Salads.  I had no real plan for this, other than that I wanted veggies, lots of them, and maybe a sprinkling of fruits, a little bit of nuts, and possibly some cheese.  Nuts and cheese can be included in my salads because they are good fats, of course. :)  As I was thinking this, fate intervened.  Almost as if on cue, the June issue of Bon Appetit appeared in my mailbox chock full of great summer salads.  Each salad looked tastier, fresher, and more colorful than the next; to me, these are the great powers of the almighty salad. 

When I was leafing through the magazine (translated: obsessively pouring over each recipe with drool running down my chin), this salad with arugula and fennel really appealed to me.  Arugula runs neck-in-neck to tie with butter lettuce as my favorite, and fennel has made a delicious debut in my life in recent years.  I wasn't entirely sure about the tangy apricots, but the lovely pale orange color is too beautiful to resist!

I bought all the ingredients to make this salad, but then decided to make an impromptu drive out to Las Vegas for the weekend to visit a good friend from college.  So naturally, I packed up all the salad stuffs, plus my trusty 7" Shun, and drove out to Sin City.  Maybe this seems weird to you, but I think most of us would agree that given the choice to cook only for ourselves, or to cook for others, the latter would undoubtedly win.   

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Blog Awards!

WOW!  So, in short time here, I have received multiple blog awards from my wonderful foodie friends!  I feel incredibly honored that they bestowed these awards on me, and it is definitely heartwarming to feel loved.  Sort of like a cyber-hug, or maybe a pat on the back for working hard to make this blog a special place for food-lovers and new friends.  

On that note, first I want to thank Julie over at Mommie Cooks! for giving me the Beautiful Blogger Award!  Her blog is wonderful, and her three adorable little boys look like bundles of joy with smiling faces.  I like her food because it is approachable, yet elegant (check out her recent Black and Blue Sorbet!), and did I mention she sometimes includes photos of her cute-as-pie children? :) Thanks so much Julie!  


I can't be entirely sure, but it seems as though I am supposed to share this with 5 other bloggers, and then post a few random facts about myself.  So here goes!

First off, I would like to share this award with the following: 

1. The Baking Barrister: Ah, how could I know that she would pass an award on to me when I had already planned to pass this one on to her?  Obviously great minds think alike. :)  Check out her blog, and you will immediately be greeted by the most perfect giraffe cookies you have ever seen, plus witty repartee to make you smile.  

2. Chef Wannabe:  All of her food is beautiful.  All of it.  Her encouraging comments on my posts, and her willingness to share my self pity during gloomy So Cal days has made her one of my favorites!  I am jealous of her rustic wooden table and her lovely trinkets. 

3. Spicy Perspective: Both the food she cooks and her accounts of life experiences seem very real and down to earth.  Whether Sommer is talking about her family, her neighborhood, or her most recent meal, she is just someone you inherently want to like.    

4. Lemons and Anchovies: Jean's blog reminds me a lot of my own, like seeing a twin sister. :)  I think many of her feelings about food are similar to mine, though she seems to have cuter plates and more patterned linens which makes for interesting and good looking food styling! 

5. Delicious Delicious Delicious: A fellow competitor in the Not So Humble Pie contest, Mr. P is not afraid to make cupcakes and cookies with glee, and his photos are clean and bright.  The pink text on his pages makes me happy. 

And second, a few random things that make The Cilantropist special:

- I do my best to be ecologically conscious.  This means recycling, buying from local farmers markets, and even using non-chemical methods to de-pest my plants (more to come on this in a later post). 

-I am not just a scientist by profession, but it really is the core of my being.  I think much of my life is a crazy experiment, which thankfully has yielded great results so far. :)  As a kid, my parents definitely nurtured my fascination with biology, and a series of great teachers developed my passion.  Now, I experiment constantly in the kitchen (making recipes exactly according to the instructions is the exception rather than the rule), and I am always fascinated by plants, small bugs, animals, and all things biological.  I really like to follow the life cycles of things and watch them grow, and this includes warm blooded mammals like little babies too. 

-Despite loving biology and being able to closely examine things that may make weaker folk squirm, I am a big sissy when it comes to my own blood.  I come pretty close to passing out when I see my own blood, and due to the fact that I am pretty accident prone, this happens more than I would like.  (Wait til you see my next post...)

-I LOVE to travel.  My list of places I would like to visit is miles long, although I have traveled to some great places so far.  Close to home (ie. the USA), some of my favorites are Chicago, San Francisco, Death Valley, and Hawaii (all the islands); far from home, I sometimes think I left a chunk of my heart in Australia and New Zealand when I studied abroad there, and I love love love Paris.  And of course, I can't forget Norway!

-Living here in Southern California, I sometimes complain about the few gloomy days we have, but I secretly miss the real weather and seasons that I grew up with in Ohio.  I long for the crashing thunder and lightning of a good thunderstorm; when even a little bit of rain falls in San Diego, we just have car accidents and leaking buildings.  I also miss the changing colors of the leaves in the fall. 

-I was obsessed with pickles as a child.  I could literally eat a whole jar in one sitting.  Sick, I know.  Why my mother let me do this, I have no idea; at the time I was too thrilled to care. 

Ok!  Enough about me for right now, before I close this post full of self-disclosure and blog appreciation, I need to thank one more person.  The Baking Barrister also gave me not one, but TWO, blog awards!  I was thrilled to receive these from her, and it is great to get accolades from someone you respect and like already.  She is great for all the reasons I listed above, but now I love her even more because she wrote a whole post about about food dedicated to the season premiere of True Blood.  I pretty obsessed with that show myself (even one more reason why I am special), and I would tell you to get HBO just so you can watch it.  She even made pizza with ooozy, bloody beets.  I think this is outstanding.  So, many thanks to her for these blog awards, and I promise to include my list of recipients in my next post plus 10 things that make me happy. 


Friday, June 11, 2010

White Chocolate Cherry Cheesecake Pots (Belated HHDD)

So I am going to keep this post relatively short and sweet... mostly because this is a small and sweet dessert.  (But also because I need to get my butt in gear and my car in drive to head out to Las Vegas for the weekend!)

And, truth be told, I can't really write too much for this post that hasn't already been written by someone else.  You see, last month Mardi of hosted the Hay Hay it's Donna Day cooking event to honor Australian cookbook and magazine author Donna Hay.  Before I read her post, I really had no idea who Donna Hay was, or why anyone would want to host a blogging event about her food.  Well I read the history of the event provided by Mardi and Chez Us (here and here), and being naturally curious, I found some more information here.  (Have you had enough links yet?)   And truly, I think I love Donna Hay.  I feel like she is Rachel Ray's better half meets Real Simple.  Where have I been without her?  Were it not for the fact that I already receive a stack of cooking magazines in the mail every month, I surely would be subscribing.  

Anyway, back to the event: The thing is...the event is over.  Yes my friends, I missed the deadline to submit my entry, oh woe is me.  Mardi was even kind enough to be flexible with the deadline so that I could still submit this dessert, but with bridal showers, trifles, and plane rides, life just got in the way.    

The event ended up being wildly popular, but thats really no surprise.  I think all us bloggers were thinking, "Really, you are asking me to whip up a cheesecake pot in 10 minutes?  Is there some catch?  You say there isn't??  Hah!  Awesome."  Overall Mardi had twenty-four entries for her event, and the bloggers hailed from all over the globe.  You can view the round-up of all the entries, and then you can keep checking out my little cheesecake pots.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Pecan Crusted Duck with Spinach and Sausage

When I was in Cleveland for the Memorial Day weekend, in addition to the bridal shower, it was also really great to spend some time with my parents.  The weekend festivities were so much fun and all the girl time was great, but relaxing with my mom and dad on Sunday was also a much needed breath of fresh air.  

Actually, just being in Ohio in May is a breath of fresh air; around the spring-summer transition, the Midwest is a wide expanse of green carpet, with baby blades of pure green grass, thick foliage on the trees, and colorful flowers growing everywhere.  It is a stark contrast to the dry landscape of southern California at this time of year.  I can almost feel the trees breathing in and out and increasing my oxygen flow; meanwhile, the blue sky soothes away all my worries and cares while the sun warms my face.  All in all, pretty heavenly.  Since the dead of summer is reliably humid and at least 90 degrees every day, I think May is one of the best times of the year in Ohio.  

Most of the time when I go back to Cleveland, either my mom has some special recipe planned that she wants to make for me (in the last couple of years I have been making recipes for her too!), or we have decided to make one of our classic meals for the holidays or a summer cook out.  No matter what, there is always food and eating, and lots of it!  More recently, my parents have also become budding foodies themselves, so it was no surprise when my dad told me he had picked up some duck legs at a kosher shop.  He was really excited about making this recipe (his very first chef idol was Emeril Lagasse), and I was looking forward to it as well since I had never made duck at home.    

When we were making it, everything seemed fine; we went through all the steps for the recipe without a hitch, and I think my dad really enjoyed being the head honcho in the kitchen while I worked as his sous-chef.  I gave my mom a wink when I called him "Chef" once, and I think out of the corner of my eye I saw him puff up with pride.    

Saturday, June 5, 2010

An Afternoon Bridal Shower: Lemon Berry White Chocolate Trifle

So I before I get on to the really important stuff (like bridal shower fun and delicious desserts) I thought I would preface this post with a little disclaimer: I think I been experiencing a bout of dessert compulsion.  As recently as just a few months ago, I was expending almost all of my culinary energy tossing together fresh salads, eating fish, and simmering healthy soups.  I would have said that I definitely prefer to cook rather than bake. Then love came to town (aka my boyfriend and his sweet tooth) and kicked my nutritious disciplined eating to the curb.  If you force me to choose, I would always pick my adorable Norwegian over vegetables, and when push comes to shove he really is a very healthy eater.  But somehow since he left last month, I haven't been able to stop making sweet treats!  I am getting lost in a tangent here; the point is, I have no plans to turn this into a dessert blog so don't be confused by the number of sugary posts from last month, or any cakes that I post in the next few weeks.

Now, on to the bridal shower!  

In case you are just tuning in, I went home to Cleveland, Ohio last weekend for a bridal shower and bachelorette party for one of my dearest college friends.  There are seven of us bridesmaids, and we all worked together to plan this elegant extravaganza, and in my humble opinion (although I think the other ladies present would agree) everything turned out to be truly perfect.  

The weather was amazing, with a clear blue cloudless sky and bright sunshine to greet us.  So many friends and family of the bride were able to attend, which made for a really friendly and lively afternoon.  Everywhere you looked, there were beautiful smiling faces of well-dressed women chatting together, either catching up on life with old friends or getting to know new friends.  And of course, we were all doting on the star of the day, the lovely bride.          

As I mentioned in my last post, the mother of one of the other bridesmaids was generous enough to host the shower at her home, and it turned out to be an ideal venue: plenty of room both outside and inside, and absolutely charming to boot.  They did an amazing job of decorating everything with intricately embroidered tablecloths, patterned paisley napkins, brightly colored flowers, and cherished family china.  We started the afternoon outside where Judy and her mother had set up tables so everyone could enjoy lunch, and we followed up with gifts, games, and dessert inside.